(Stephen Grizzle, Fairbury Public Schools Superintendent, Mike Lucas, York Public Schools, Caroline Winchester, Chadron Public Schools, and Jami Jo Thompson, Norfolk Public Schools)
We have a tremendous amount of appreciation and respect for school board members. Let’s face it, our school boards, and school board members across this state help make Nebraska a great place to live.
1,700 volunteers serving the students and patrons of their communities in a very selfless manner, all for no pay. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. It is school board members who often deal with the difficult policies and situations that can divide communities and create “darned if you do and darned if you don’t” scenarios.
As parents, teachers, principals, and now superintendents, we’ve been lucky to work with and for school boards all across Nebraska, and have found them all to be very conscientious, inquisitive, and dedicated to the children of their communities. One common thread of each school board we’ve worked with or for is “PRIDE” in their school and community. They understand the important connection that communities and their public schools share.
School board members are extremely accountable, just like the school districts they serve.
Among all of their other duties they have to ensure their school district adheres to state mandated spending and tax levy lids; make sure they follow all of the “Rule 10” guidelines that are laid out for public schools to meet or exceed; maintain all of the policies that meet special education guidelines, assessment and accountability measures, and more “red tape” than most folks can imagine; and remain accountable, as locally elected officials, to their patrons to provide a high quality education while also being wary of the “local tax burden.”
It is this issue that motivated us to write this. We’re tired of seeing school board members blamed for high property taxes. Low levels of state funding for education is at the heart of Nebraska’s property tax issues, not school spending.
The 2015 Legislative Fiscal Office report showed that school spending growth over the past decade was at its lowest level in the past 30 years. A number of districts have average annual spending increases of less than 1.6%.
Nebraska ranks 49th in the country in the percentage of K-12 funding that comes from the state. Nebraskans pay the 7th highest effective property tax rate in the nation.
Our school board members don’t have a school spending problem. Our state has a “school funding” problem.
Nebraska K-12 schools receive 33% of their funding from state sources while the national average is 47%.
Nebraska K-12 schools receive 49% of their funding from local property taxes while the national average is 29%.
We need to reform the way Nebraska’s schools are funded, with significantly less reliance on our local property taxes.
We need our elected officials inside the Capitol, the Governor, the 49 Senators, many of whom made campaign promises of lowering your local property taxes, to stay true to their word. Let’s work to adequately fund our high performing schools without such an extreme over-reliance on our local property taxes.